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Virgin Galactic sets stage for final test flight before commercial launch

Virgin Galactic is preparing to launch its final test flight to suborbital space, a significant milestone before initiating commercial services. Scheduled for Thursday, May 25, the flight will depart from Spaceport America in New Mexico at 10 a.m. EDT.

The flight, dubbed Unity 25, will carry eight individuals: six aboard the space plane VSS Unity and two in the carrier aircraft VMS Eve.

The group will consist entirely of Virgin Galactic employees. Veteran Virgin Galactic pilot Mike Masucci will command VSS Unity, with former NASA astronaut C.J. Sturckow as the pilot. Jameel Janjua and Nicola Pecile will cost and pilot VMS Eve, respectively.

  • Virgin Galactic's countdown to commercial operations: Final test flight set for May 25 
  • Virgin Galactic aims to fly first commercial space tourism mission in June 
  • Virgin's USS Unity spaceplane completes a critical suborbital test flight 

Inside Unity's cabin, four crew members will experience the thrill of spaceflight.

Chief astronaut instructor Beth Moses, who has already visited space twice, will be joined by astronaut instructor Luke Mays and mission specialists Christopher Huie and Jamila Gilbert. This mission will mark Mays, Huie, and Gilbert's first journey to space.

Space Flight in Real-Time

This mission will replicate previous flights.

The carrier aircraft, Eve, will take off with Unity secured beneath its wings, ascend to approximately 50,000 feet, and then release Unity. Upon release, Unity's rocket motor will ignite, propelling the craft above 50 miles, a height that, by some accounts, constitutes reaching space.

Unity 25 represents Virgin Galactic's fifth journey to space. The company's last spaceflight occurred in July 2021, with Virgin Group founder and billionaire Richard Branson among the passengers.

The intervening period has been devoted to upgrading and testing Unity and Eve and readying the vehicles for commercial service.

Should Unity 25 proceed as planned, Virgin Galactic intends to commence commercial flights, with ticket prices reportedly $450,000 each. Hundreds of customers have already joined the queue for these much-anticipated journeys.

Meanwhile, Virgin Galactic's primary competition, Blue Origin, is on hold. After a malfunction during an uncrewed launch in September 2022, the company is reportedly still addressing the root cause.

Blue Origin expects to resume flights later this year, though it has not disclosed its pricing per seat. The company has successfully transported people to space on its New Shepard system six times.

This upcoming flight underscores the growth and progress of the commercial space tourism industry. With Virgin Galactic and competitors like Blue Origin, the dream of traveling to space is becoming a reality for those beyond astronauts and the super-wealthy.

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